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Mental health check turns deadly after Detroit police fire 38 rounds at man with knife

The family of 22-year-old Porter Burks says he did not pose a threat when he was fatally shot.

A young man armed with a knife was needlessly gunned down in "medieval" fashion by Detroit police officers who fired 38 rounds at him during a mental health crisis, his family said Thursday.

Loved ones of Porter Burks, 22, said they will file a wrongful death lawsuit against police as soon as a probate court appoints his mother, Quieauna Wilson, as head of his estate.

“The idea that we should treat mental illness with the police and guns is medieval," family attorney Geoffrey Fieger told reporters.

"That’s what they used to do in medieval times, chain people up to the wall in an insane asylum. Well, we have now graduated to executing them with firing squads."

Burks had a 3½-inch folding knife, Fieger said, before he was hit by at least 15 of 38 rounds fired at him within three seconds before dawn Sunday.

The family claims he was far from police when he was struck by the volley of shots, perhaps as far as 46 feet away.

Detroit Police Chief James White released partial body-camera video Tuesday showing his officers speaking to Burks on Sunday on a street in the city's west side.

For several minutes, officers appear to be patient with the young man, asking him to drop the knife so they can chat or give him a ride home.

When Burks refuses to drop the knife, an officer calmly asks: "Can I ask why not?"

For much of the chat on the darkened street block, Burks and officers appear to be at least two house lots apart.

Porter Burks
Porter Burks.Courtesy Geoffrey N. Fieger

“I don’t want to talk,” the young man appears to say. "I just want to get some rest.”

The video released by police doesn't show the moment he was fatally struck. Burks appears to be waving his hands above his head and moving quickly toward officers before police gunfire erupts.

"Very tragic situation," White said. "Certainly, again, not the desired outcome. Again, my condolences to the Burks family. This is not what we wanted."

White insisted officers were doing their best to help Burks. Five officers have been put on routine administrative leave.

"The officers were trying to negotiate with him," White said. "And without provocation he charged the officer with a knife in hand, gaining ground on them very quickly, and in fear of their life, they fired their weapons to stop the threat."

A representative for Detroit police couldn’t be immediately reached for comment Thursday.

Fieger said the police video doesn't fully or accurately show the entire confrontation.

Officers handcuffed the mortally wounded Burks and "dumped him off" at Sinai-Grace Hospital without telling doctors what had just happened, Fieger said.

Officers "just left him there, with his father and other family members,” Fieger said.